Poor Antonio Salieri (1750- 1825 ) has gotten a bum rap in music history . For so long , he's been seen a mediocre composer with a pathological envy of the divinely gifted Mozart , and there have been long-standing but totally bogus rumors that he may have been guilty of causing the untimely death of his supposed rival in 1791 by poisoning him .
The enormous popularity of Milos Forman's film Amadeus , which came out 30 years ago and was based on the play of the same name by Peter Schaeffer , hasn't exactly done much for Salieri's reputation . In fact , the film, while highly entertaining , makes mincemeat of the historical facts and also paints a highly misleading picture of Mozart .
So just who was Antonio Salieri ? Far from being a non-entity , he was one of the best known and respected composers of the 18th and early 19th century . He was a prominent composer, conductor and teacher who was a pupil of none other than the great opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, whose 300 th anniversary comes this year . He was highly connected within the classical music world of his day , friend of the most powerful aristocrats of Europe and many of the most important composers of his day . He knew Mozart well and the two were on good terms . Does this sound like a mediocrity ?
Salieri was born in the Veneto region of Italy , that is the mainland area of Italy surrounding Venice , and showed great promise as a composer in his youth . But he moved to Vienna and spent the rest of his life there while making frequent trips around Europe , and became fluent in German .
Salieri was one of the leading opera composers of his day and wrote numerous stage works which were widely performed in his lifetime but which have been completely forgotten until recent revivals , but also composed symphonies, concertos , choral works such ass Masses and Requiem etc .
Somehow , rumors began to circulate after Mozart died in 1791 that he had poisoned him , but there is not one shred of evidence for this absurd accusation . The film Amadeus portrayed him as being insanely envious of Mozart and obsessed with his inferiority to his rival , and shows him as an old man living in an insane asylum many years later constantly brooding over Mozart .
Interestingly , Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov , famous for his exotic orchestral suite "Scheherezade " , wrote a brief one act opera with small orchestra called "Mozart and Salieri ". The two are the only characters apart from a non-singing or speaking role for a violinist . Salieri has invited Mozart to his home for dinner , and sure enough , by the end , we find that Salieri has poisoned Mozart . The opera has been recorded a few times and you can see it on youtube with English subtitles . It's certainly interesting but not at all typical of the other Rimsky-Korsakov operas , which deal with Russian history and folklore .
You can also see and hear recordings of some of Salieri's music on youtube . A few years ago, I took out a DVD of a performance of Salieri's opera "Falstaff " from my library, based on Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor ". Verdi's final opera "Falstaff ", also based on the play, is of course far better known, and one of the greatest comic operas ever written .
But I found the Salieri opera highly enjoyable , and would definitely recommend the DVD , which was filmed at the opera festival in Schwetzingen, Germany , which specializes in reviving obscure operas ,about 20 years ago . The music is witty and vivacious , not at all the work of a mediocrity .
The renowned Italian mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli is an enthusiast for Salieri's music and has recorded a number of arias and othervocal works by him , and recordings of his music are no longer scarce . So forget the movie Amadeus , entertaining as it is, and give the music of Antonio Salieri a chance ! You won't regret it .
The classical recordings industry isn't what it used to be . Gone are the days when the world's leading orchestras used to have recording contracts with such presitgious classical labels as Deutsche Grammophon , Decca , EMI Classics , R.C.A . and others and produced a steady stream of studio recordings and sometimes ones from concerts under the world's most eminent conductors . Works ranging from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to 20th century repertoire .
What happened ? Classical recordings are very expensive to produce , and few of them sell like the proverbial hot cakes . Especially expensive in America for some reason; it costs less to produce classical recordings in Europe . In the 1960s , when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic , Leonard Bernstein made regular studio recordings of works he was conducting live for what is now Sony Classical records , Columbia records at the time, later CBS records . Most of these are still available, and still sell well by the standards of classical recordings .
His successor , French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez , now 89 years , continued to make recordings with the orchestra . The Indian-born Zubin Mehta was next, but the orchestra lost its contract . The Philharmonic began to make recordings with Deutsche Grammophon and then Teldec records when the German conductor Kurt Masur took over , but under Lorin Maazel, who took over after Masur , the orchestra made exactly one recording , a new work by American composer John Adams . And this was a live recording, not a studio one .
Now , under Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic has begun making live recordings of the six symphonies of the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931 ) for a Danish label . During his more than 40 years with the Philadelphia orchestra , the Hungarian-born Eugene Ormandy made hundreds of recordings of a wide repertoire for Columbia, R.C.A. and later England's EMI and a couple of other labels ,many of which are still available .
Other notable conductor/orchestra/record label teams include George Szell and the Cleveland orchestra , Fritz Reiner and Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago symphony , Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston symphony for R.C.A . , Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic ,mostly for Decca , William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh symphony , and the Hungarian Antal Dorati with several orchestras in Minneapolis , Washington, D.C. , Dallas and Detroit , and so forth .
Under the dynamic young French Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin , Deutsche Grammophon has believe it or not, just issued a studio ! recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for the centennial celebration of this seminal work with the Philadelphia orchestra .
In Europe , Herbert von Karajan made hundreds of recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led from 1954 to 1989, the year of his death . No fewer than three sets of the nine Beethoven symphonies for example , plus and earlier one with the Philharmonia orchestra of London, not to be confused with the London Philharmonic . Most of the Berlin recordings were for Deutsche Grammophon , and some for EMI . Karajan also made numerous recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic , for Decca and D.G. .
The five orchestras of London , the London symphony, the Philharmonia , the London Philharmonic , the Royal Philharmonic and the B.B.C. symphony , have long been the most prolific makers of recordings , under countless different conductors , famous and lesser known .
These great orchestras still make recordings , but they have been becoming ever more scarce, and almost all are from live concerts , usually with sessions after concerts to clean up any mistakes and flubs , which are inevitable live .
But within the past ten years or so , a number of leading orchestras have decided to form their own recording companies and issue recordings of live performances on their own . One of the first was the London symphony orchestra , founded in 1904 as a self-governing entity , and some of these have become classical best sellers . The late, great Sir Colin Davis , the L.S.O. chief conductor at the time led an acclaimed series of live recordings of the music of the great 19th century French composer Hector Berlioz , who music he had long championed . The L.S.O . and Sir Colin had already made renowned recordings of these Berlioz masterpieces years ago for the now defunct Dutch label Philips , but these were studio recordings .
In America , the Chicago , Boston and San Francisco symphonies soon began issuing their own recordings , under respectively Riccardo Muti, Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink (Chicago ), James Levine (Boston ) and Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco ). The Atlanta symphony under its current music director Robert Spano has just released its first recordings on its own label , of Sibelius symphonies, and the Seattle symphony is about to begin its own recordings .
The Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , the leading orchestra of the Netherlands had made an enromlous number of recordings for Philips , and a fair number for other labels such as Decca under numerous distinguished conductors, such as Willem Mengelberg and Bernard Haitink , two of the most eminent Dutch conductors , as well as the Italian Riccardo Chailly, who was the first non-Dutch music director of the orchestra , and now under its current head , Latvian maestro Mariss Jansons , is issuing its own recordings .
The Berlin Philharmonic , now led by the British maestro Sir Simon Rattle , has just issued its first recordings on its own , of the four symphonies of Robert Schumann .
A number of independent classical labels such as the budget label Naxos , Chandos of England , and CPO of Germany , are still issuing recordings by a variety of different orchestras , including the radio orchestras of Germany , which have long enjoyed generous government support . Naxos has issued recordings by the Detroit , Baltimore, Nashville and other U.S. orchestras . (Yes, there is an excellent symphony orchestra in Nashville, home of Country Western music !) .
Is this a good trend ? Will it increase sales of orchestral recordings ? Will more and more orchestras begin to issue their own recordings ? It's difficult to answer the first two questions , but the trend seems to be growing , and most likely, more and more orchestras will become free agents . It seems to be an eminently sensible move
By coincidence , Johannes Brahms and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, two icons of 19th century classical music , were born on May 7th, respectively in 1833 and 1840 . So I thought it might be interesting to compare both composers , who were very different indeed in their musical and aesthetic philosophies .
Both composers have long been extremely popular, and the music of both has caused considerable controversy . Neither was very fond of the other's music , although they met a number of times and got along well . Both produced beloved staples of the repertoire ; symphonies, concertos, chamber music , songs, choral works, music for solo piano etc , but unlike Tchaikovsky , Brahms never wrote any operas .
The music of both composers is highly melodious and full of warmth , but the music of Brahms is more austere and restrained . Tchaikovsky has been accused by more than a few prominent critics and musicologists of writing cheap , sentimental and even vulgar works intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator, although this is anything but a fair accusation . On the other hand , Brahms has been accused of writing dry , grayish and labored music , lacking in freshness and sponaneity , also an unfair accusation .
Tchaikovsky's music probably has more immediate appeal to newcomers to classical music ; it is certainly more colorful and superficially exciting to the general public . The supposed "sentimentality" of Tchaikovsky's music is probably the fault of performers who are guilty of exaggerating the emotional qualities of his works .
Brahms wrote four symphonies ; Tchaikovsky six, although only the last three have been performed often for some reason . The German wrote two piano concertos, one for vioilin and one for violin and cello . Tchaikovsky completed two ; a third exists in torso form and only the first is played with any frequency ,although the second deserves to be better known . Tchaikovsky also wrote one violin concerto .
Brahms also wrote two concert overtures , The "Tragic" overture, and the "Academic Festival overture" , which uses popular German university songs . It was written on the occaision of the composer being awarded an honorary degree from the University of Breslau, formerly in Germany , but now in Poland .
Brahms was a strong believer in "absolute " music, music with no programmatic story behind it ; pure ,abstract music , but Tchakovsky wrote such well known programmatic , descriptive works as the symphonic poems "Romeo & Juliet,"" Francesca D Rimini ", based on Dante's Inferno , and other orchestral works . Thye programmatic symphony "Manfred " , based on a poem of Byron , is not numbered among his six symphonies .
Tchaikovsky wrote three ballet scores which are frequently performed in excerpt form at concerts, the famous "Nutcracker", "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty . " His mist famous opera is "Yevgeny Onegin " (Eugene Onegin ) , based on a long poetic drama by Pushkin about a cynical bachelor who rejects the love of a naive y0oung woman ,only to realize later how much he loved her now that she is married . Another remarkable opera is Pique Dame ,(Queen of Spades ) also based on a story by Pushkin about a troubled soldier and gambler who is obsessed with finding a magical formula in gambling in order to win the love of a beautiful , elusive young woman of the aristocracy , with disastrous results .
Tchaikovsky's other operas , such as "The Maid of Orleans ", a fictionalized opera about Joan of Arc, and others , are rarely performed outside of Russia , and not even that often there .
The best known choral work by Brahms is the "German Requiem ", which does not use the traditional Latin Requiem text , but familiar passages in Martin Luther's German version on death and dying . Unlike Verdi's intensely dramatic ,almost operatic Requiem , the German Requiem is a gentle and reflective work , full of consolation and resignation .
Brahms was born to humble parents in a lower class section of Hamburg in 1933 ; his father was a local musician who played the double bass and encouraged his son to develope his talents as a budding young pianist and composer , and the young man acheived a considerable reputation as a pianist , attracting the attention of the great Robert Schumann ( 1810-1856 ), who recognized his great talent . Brahms moved from dour maritime Hamburg to glamorous, cosmopolitan Vienna , where he spent the rest of his life .He never married .
Tchaikovsky was the son of a provincial Russian government official , born in the town of Votkinsk , far from Moscow and St.Petersburg ; he came from a fairly well off family and also showed great talent in his youth , but Russia did not as yet have the developed and sophisticated musical life of Germany , and he studied law , well as studying at the recently opened Moscow conservatoire . He attracted the attention of a very wealthy woman who was the widow of a Russian tycoon, Nadezhda von Meck, who admired his music so much she provided him with generous support so he would not have to seek employment in another field , as his contempraries Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov had done .
Curiously , the widow insisted that the two never meet personally , and they never did . Tchaikovsky was a gay man , which was hardly acceptable in polite society at the time , and he reluctantly entered into a brief sham marriage to a young woman who was infatuated with him . This nearly drove the sensitive and rather neurotic composer to suicide , and the two were soon divorced .
The death of Tchaikovsky in 1893 under mysterious circumstances 1893 has long been a subject of discussion and speculation . Apparently, he drank contaminated water during a cholera epidemic and died . According to some stories, he was ordered to commit suicide by certain individuals in the Russian aristocracy because of an affair with the nephew of a prominent member of the Tsar's family, but this has not been confirmed . Brahms died of natural causes in Vienna in 1897 , a year after the death of his close friend Clara Schumann , widow of Robert and a well known pianist and composer in her own wright . There has been speculation that the two may have been lovers , but this has not been confirmed .
Tchaikovsky was prone to depression and was frequently overcome by homesickness on his frequent trips to countries such as France, Italy , Germany etc, and visited America in 1891 , conducting his music at the opening of Carnegie hall . Brahms had a reputation of being gruff and curt with people , and according to one story which may or may not be true , he once left a party in Vienna offering his apologies to anyone there he had not insulted !
If you're new to classical music , there is a huge array of recordngs of the music of these two great composers available , by so many great classical musicians , living and dead , as well as plenty of DVDs . A good place on the internet to get recommendations for these is classicstoday.com .
Lately , I've been seeing some rarely performed but interesting operas on Netflix . They have a wide variety of classical and opera DVDs available , so I've been taking advantage of this . Among these are a rare production of the only opera by Robert Schumann - "Genoveva " ( hard g as in gum ) . It was filmed at the Zurich opera several years ago .
Schumann (1810 - 1856 ) is best known for his beloved piano concerto , his four symphonies , his many art songs , works for solo piano etc, but he did write one opera , Genoveva , which is the story of a brave medieval German Count and his beautiful young wife Countess Genoveva . Count Siegfried must go off to war to fight the Moors from Spain who are invading Europe , and he leaves Genoveva in the care of his trusted servant Golo in his castle , who is secretly in love with Genoveva but who dares not reveal this .
Golo declares his love for her and makes a brazen pass at her, but she rejects him . He falsely accuses her of adultery with another one of the Count's servants , who is killed by the angry residents of the castle . Genoveva is accused , and sentenced to die . But Count Siegfried returns just before she is executed , the plot is revealed and everything ends happily .
Not a bad subject for an opera , and Schumann wrote some beautiful and stirring music for it . But for some reason , the opera has had only sporadic revivals since the mid 19th century . Many critics and musicologists have dismissed it as hopelessly ineffective dramatically despite the fine music . It was not recorded until the late 1970s , when the distinguished German conductor Kurt Masur led it with the renowned Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig in the former East Germany , of which he was then chief conductor .
Another distinguished conductor , Nikolaus Harnoncourt , best known for his performances with period instrument orchestras ,made a more recent Digital recording with the Chamber orchestra of Europe , and he leads the Zurcih production .
But the production , directed by one Martin Kusej ( KOO - shay ) is so perverse and grotesquely inappropriate it would have given poor old Robert heart failure if he could see it . Not to mention the unit set , which serves for all the different scenes in the opera . The costumes are of Schumann's time , which is the least of the production's quirks . This is unfortunately typical of European opera productions today , which vie with each other in trying to be as trendily perverse as possible .
The one set consists of an all white room with a modern sink ! The characters frequrently jump on top of it for no apparent reason despite the fact that the action takes place over 1,000 years ago ,long befiore modern plumbing . Fake blood frequently appears out of the blue on the white wall , and many of the characters have what looks like soot on their faces for no apparent reason . Fake blood also comes out of the sink at times .
Characters who are not in certain scenes of the opera stand there in front of the others , even though they are supposed ot be far away at the time . Does this even make any sense ? Perhaps the most ludicrous thing in this wacky production is when an invisible chorus is supposed ot be singing behind the scene , where the sorceress Margaretha , who is involved in the plot against the hapless Genoveva , performs magic for some reason too complicated to explain here .
The phantom chorus is right there in front of the audience , and is dressed up as surgeons ! with scrubs and surgeon's masks covering their faces . The chorus takes a bunch of dead fish ! and swings them around , later throwing them in a pile on the floor . Genoveva is nude , with her back to the audience . Sheesh !!! What got into the mind of the director ?
And this is by no means the most ridiculous and bizarre production of an opera which has appeared at European opera houses in our time . For nearly 40 years , such productions have be de rigeur in Europe . You almost never see a production of an opera set in the time of the original story or with costumes of the period . The opera may take place in the middle ages , but the cast and chorus are usually in modern clothes as well as the sets .
Some productions at the Metropolitan opera and other American opera houses have updated the action and costumes to the present day , but the directors rarely go as far as those in European houses in dreaming up bizarre arbitrary gimmicks .
But at least I got a chance to see this rarely performed operatic masterpiece .
The great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was born in the Ukraine to Russian parents 123 years ago today . His exuberant , witty, melodious and colorful music has been beloved all over the world for nearly a century . Prokofiev showed great talent as both a pianist and composer from childhood , and he studied at the St. Petersburg conservatory with such notable Russian composers as Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov from boyhood to early adulthood . He then went on to make quite a name for himself as both a pianist and composer , appearing all over Russia , Europe and America as a pianist ,playing both his own music and that of others ,spending much of his life in Europe and the U.S.A. until he returned to the U.S.S. R . in 1936 , often having to deal with the random displeasure of Joseph Stalin , a confirmed music lover but one who made life extremely difficult for leading Russian composers with his random displeasure with their music .
According to the dreaded Georgian-born tyrant , any music which displeased him was unfit for the Soviet public . Prokofiev's younger contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975 ) also suffered greatly under Stalin . One of the weirdest coindcidences in the history of music is that Prokofiev died on the very same day as Stalin in 1953 !
Prokofiev composed masterpieces in virtually every musical genre ; works for piano ; sonatas , miscellaneous piano pieces , five piano concertos , two for violin , two for cello , seven symphonies and other orchestral works , operas, ballets , oratorios , chamber music , etc .
His music has enormous expressive range ; it can be witty, sarcastic , playful , heroic, tragic , fantastical , weird , radiantly lyrical , you name it . But it is almost always very Russian in feeling . Prokofiev's music is very rich in memorable themes , his harmonies are always pungent and his orchestration is colofrful and inventive .
Among his most famous works are his first symphony , from around 1917 , the so-called "classical " symphony , which is an attempt to imitate the style of Mozart & Haydn while using 20th century harmony , the third of his five piano concertos , the fifth symphony , the music to the famous Sergei Eisenstein film "Alexnder Nevsky " adapted for concert performance , the familiar "Peter and the Wolf " , the music to the ballet "Romeo & Juliet " , the two concertos for violin etc .
The various operas of Prokofiev , which have only been widely performed in recent years , are among the most fascinating of the 20th century . They include the monumental and very long "War & Peace " ,based on the great Tolstoy novel , the zany farce "The Love For Oranges ", based on an 18th century Italian comedy , a sort of operatic Monty Python sketch , and the weird and profoundly disturbing "The Fiery Angel ", a nightmarish story of obsession ,black magic and demonic possession in 16th century Germany .
Other ballet scores include " Cinderella " , based on the familiar fairy tale , and "The Stone Flower ", based on old Russian legends . Prokofiev also wrote sweeping and powerful music for the Eisenstein fim "Ivan The Terrible ," and this was adapted for concert use after the composer's death .
The "Lt. Kizhe " suite for orchestra comes from the music to the Russian film of the same name about a 19th century Tsar who reads a military report inaccurartely and comes to believe in the existence of a non-existent Lt. Kizhe . However , his militry staff are too frightenend to tell the mighty Tsar that he has made a mistake and resort to making up bogus reports of his supposed military expolits . When the Tsar asks to meet the officer , he is told of his death in battle and a mock funeral is held ! This film gave Prokofiev a chance to display his musical wit , which he did in many of his works .
Prokofiev's music has been widely recorded and given some of the greatest pianists , violinists , cellists and conductors of the 20t century to show their mettle . Among them pianists Vladmimir Horowitz , Sviatoslav Richter , violinists Jascha Heifetz , David Oistrakh and Itzhak Perlman , cellist and conductor Mstiislav Rostropovich , who was a close friend of the composer , and conductors Yevgeny Mravinsky, Eugene Ormandy, Gennady Rozhdestvensky , and Leopold Stokowski , to name only a handful .
These recordings and those of many other distinguished intperpreters of Prokofiev are easily available on CD , as well as DVDs of the ballets and operas .
The music of Prokofiev is both modern and accessible , and there is so much of it to enjoy .
Well ,for one thing , it depends on what you consider to be tuneful . Not everyone agrees about this . Melody is certainly an important part of what we call classical music , but not all music ,particularly atonal and 12-tone works of the 20th century is conventionally melodious . It should be remembered that while all 12-tone music is atonal ,not all atonal music is 12-tone in the Schoenbergian sense .
Some classical works by famous composers are very tuneful , and listeners find this very appealing , and why not ? The most popular classical works usually have catchy melodies ,and this is one reason even people who have little or no knowledge of classical music can easily recognize them .
But many great works by many great composers are not full of immediately appealing melodies , such as the music of the so-called "Second Viennese School ", ie , the music of Arnold Schoenberg and his two most famous disciples Alban Berg and Anton Webern . Or other important 20th century composers such as Olivier Messiaen , Elliott Carter , Milton Babbitt , Pierre Boulez et al .
However, this is no reason to reject their music out of hand . You simply need a different mindset , as well as some patience , to appreciate it . It also helps to have a decent or better background in music theory , but this is not absolutely essential .
The 12-tone works of Schoenberg are not conventionally tuneful , and you're not likely to exit a performance of them whistling the tunes . But they DO have recognizable MOTIFS , that is short recognizable recurring (sort of ) melodic ideas . A melody might be defined as a tune of some length , but a motif might be described as a very brief (sort of ) melodic idea .
While melody is certainly important in classical music , nice hummable melodies alone do not great music make . What matters is what the composer DOES with those melodies or themes . This is what creates masterpieces . The themes ,or melodies if you insist on calling them this , are merely the basic building blocks ,the raw material , of any given classical work , whether a symphony , concerto, sonata , or what have you .
Many of the themes in Beethoven's music , for example , are not particularly interesting in and of themselves . They're just simple themes consisting of rising and falling melodic lines , scalar ideas , that is ,melodies rising or falling by short intervals , or with disjunct intervals of wider leaps . But Beethoven's genius consists in his ability to transform these simple basic ideas by constantly altering them in the most ingenious manner .
In any given symphony , concerto or sonata etc by Beethoven , those basic themes are constntly varied and altered ; by subtly changing the basic shape of the melody , using different orchestral instruments to play them , thus varying the tone color , switching the themes from major to minor or vice versa , using augmentation and diminution of the themes by lengthening or shortening the length of the notes, using counterpoint ,or having the basic ideas played as different voices going on at the same time but not beginning exactly at the same time , and many,many other ways .
You might compare this to a novel or short story ; each consists of a story with a varity of different characters , and a symphony could be called a novel in music , with a variety of different themes occurring through the different movements . Each movement might be compared to a chapter of a novel , although symphonies , concertos & sonatas usually have only three or four movements , occaisionally more or fewer than this .
As in a novel or short story , the themes are like the characters ; they never remain the same and are constantly changing and evolving over time . The hero or heroine of a novel is never the same as in the beginning ,nor the other characters .
A theme and variations is a work where a composer takes a preexisting melody from some other work , either by another composer or himself , and subjects that melody to constant changes over a period of time . It iusually consists of the basic theme , which keeps changing , in separae sections , vraration 1, 2, 3,4, 5, and more ,sometimes more than 20 . Orthe theme could be a popular melody or folk song .
There are so many of these by so many great composers , such as Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky ,Rchmaninov , to name only several , and they are can be for solo piano , piano and other instruments , or for orchestrra etc . Some individual movements of symphonies or sonatas etc , consist of themes and variations , one of the most famous being the famous Schubert quintet for piano and strings , the so-called "Trout Quintet ", where the composer takes the melody from one of his songs , which happens to be about a fisherman fishing for a trout in a stream and subjects it to variations .
Schubert music is known to be very melodious ; but what makes his music great is not the melodies alone . And this is true of so many great composers . Catchy melodies without a great composer's genius in working with them are not really worth much . So when you listen to any classical masterpiece , you should always try to be aware of what the composer ACTUALLY DOES with the melodies to gain true enjoyment and understanding of the music .
Today is the 83rd birthday of one of the greatest masters of that treacherous instrument , the French horn ,or as some purists insist ,the horn , Australian native and world citizen ,Barry Tuckwell . He has been retired from playing the horn in public since the late 1990s ,but is still very much active as a teacher and a conductor .
As a former horn player myself ,I've always been in awe of his incredible virtuosity and golden tone . But this is true of every one who plays this instrument . He makes it sound as though playing this extremely difficult instrument were easy ! Tuckwell is one of the few horn players to make a successful career as a full time soloist ,although he began as an orchestral player .
Because of his astounding virtuosity , Tuckwell has been called the "Heifetz of the horn ". Born in Melbourne in 1931 , Tuckwell took up the horn as a boy and showed such innate andprodigious talent for the instrument he began to play professionally in Australian orchestras as a teenager . He moved to England and played in various leading British orchestras until becoming principal horn of the presitgious London symphony orchestra ,playing under many of the world's foremost conductors , and left the orchestra to pursue a career as a solo hornist ,appearing to great acclaim all over the world
In addition ,he has made numerous recordings ,more than any other horn player , of the horn concertos by Mozart ,Haydn , Richard Strauss ,Paul Hindemith , Carl Maria von Weber and lesser known composers who have written solo works for the instrument , as well as new works by leading contemporary composers such as Gunther Schuller , a former horn player himself , Thea Musgrave , Robin Holloway , Richard Rodney Bennet Oliver Knussen and others . These composers have written works specifically for him .
Tuckwell has also been active as a conductor , appearing with many different orchestras , including the London symphony , and has served as music director of the Baltimore symphony orchestra in America . He has taught horn master classes alll over the world as well as teaching privately at leading music schools .
He has written three books on horn playing ,including one for the late Yehudi Menuhin's series of books on the various orchestral instruments written by various great virtuosos . This book is a goldmine of fascinating information about the history of the horn ,its playing technique and construction , and I recommend it highly .
If you would like to experience his great artistry , try his recordings of some of the most famous works for the horn first , such as the concertos of Mozart and Richard Strauss first . They are easily available at amazon.com and elsewhere on the internet .
"Modest Maestro " sounds like an oxymoron , but today is the 85th birthday of the venerable Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (High -tink) ,one of the most eminent maestros of our time . Conductors have the reputation of being flashy, imperious ,egotistical and sometimes downright ruthless , but the veteran Dutch conductor has never shown any of these qualities . He may be the most unpretentious individual ever to achieve world renown on the podium .
And musicians in virtually all the world's great orchestras have enormous respect for his sterling musicianship and leadership abilities . They certainly don't like every conductor they work under , and in some cases they have nothing but contempt for them , but if you talk to ny of them , they have nothing but the highest regard for him . They can spot a phony instantly .
He has conducted virtually all of the world's top orchestras and conducted opera at the Met and served as music director of London's presitgious Royal Opera for some years ,but the orchestra with which he has been most closely associated is the great Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , where he was principal conductor for many years untlil stepping down in the late 1980s . This is the foremost orchestra in the Netherlands , and virtually all the world's greatest conductors have appeared with it .
Mestro Haitink has also served as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic , the Staatskapelle of Dresden , music director of the presitgious Glyndebourne opera festival in England , principal guest conductor of the Boston symphony , and served for some time as principal conductor of the Chicago symphony ,not music director , in between Daniel Barenboim and its curren tmusic director Riccardo Muti . He has also been a regular with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich and the Berlin Philharmonic .
As a conductor,Haitink has always avoided interpretive flashiness , and his performances are straightforward but anything but dull . His repertoire ranges from Mozart and Beethoven to works by contemporary composers ., He is particularly renowned for his performances of the monumental symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, which he has recorded complete .
Haitink has made numerous recordings of orchestralrepertoire as well as a number of complete opera recordings , including Wagner's complete Ring with the Bavarian Radio orchestra . He has made no fewer than three recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies , three of the four Brahms symphonies , the six of Tchaikovsky , the nine of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams , the four of Robert Schumann, aand many other composers . The Netherlands has produced a fair number of composers ,none well known outside of the country , but Haitink regularly performed their music in his native Amsterdam .
He has reached the age of 85, a time when most people have long been retired or are now in homes for the elderly , but maintains an active international schedule . Many great conductors ,such as Stokowski , Ormandy , Sir Adrian Boult , Otto Klemperer , Kurt Sanderling , Pierre Boulez , Kurt Masur , and others have never felt the need to retire because the physical activity of conducting seems to promote good health in old age .
So let's all wish a happy 85th birthday to a modest but remarkable musician !
Why am I mangling the title of a famous song by Duke Ellington ? I'd like to talk about the importance of context in classical music . As I see it ,it's a major stumbling block to enjoying classical music for many .
When most people think of music ,they think of SONGS . Pop songs . Rock songs etc . What do these songs deal with for the most part ? Love . Possibly politics or some other things . But while vocal music is a very important part of classical , much of it is purely instrumental . Symphonies,concertos , sonatas ,symphonic poems , suites , etc .
So many people are just not accustomed to listening to purely instrumental music . If you take someone and play him or her a recording of a symphony by Beethoven , or a sonata for piano,or a string quartet etc and that person has no background in this kind of music , knows next tonothing about classical ,chances are it will mean nothing to that individual . Possibly ,it might sound interesting , and it might pique his curiosity , but it might also be totally puzzling . Or boring or irrritating .
This person has no context,no frame of reference when it comes to classical music . You might compare it to speaking a language that person does not know at all to him . In order to understand a language and speak it , you need to study it carefully .
Actually , getting familiar with classical music and learning about different genres and forms in it , the history , etc , is nowhere near as difficult as learning ,say , Chinese,Japanese or Russian . But you DO need to leanr SOMETHING about it in order to REALLY gain enjoyment and mental stimulus from it . It wasn't a problem for me as a teenager , since I doscovered it on my own and began devouring every recording , book and and magazine I could get my hands on . I soaked it all up naturally . All the information I could find about it . But I'm not a typical example of how people get interested in classical music .
I read everything I could about composers and their works ,their lives , etc . And I went through rigorous musical training as a music major in college and graduate school . Some people are lucky enough to have had parents who love classical music and who play recordings of it at home and take them to concerts . I didn't come from a very musical family , but somehow ,I discovered classical music when I was about 13 and the rest is history .
What can people do to gain that all important context and frame of reference ? There are plenty of good books explaining classical music for the uninitiated ,and plenty of internet resources . It's all out there for anyone who is willing to give classical music a chance .Now if there were only more peope like this in America . . . .
It's not "politically correct "for lovers of classical music to denigrate Pop music, Rock , or other kinds of non-classical music . To do so,or even to say you prefer classical, is to open yourself up to accusations of being a "snob" and an "elitist ". But it's perfectly acceptable for people to denigrate classical music , to dismiss it as "stuffy, boring and elitist ", irrelevant ,passe , a plaything for the wealthy , a musty old art form consisting almost entirely of dated music from the past , or even racist . Music dominated by "Dead White European Males ".
But these notions are all myths . And unfortunately , these myths have closed the minds of so many people to the possibility of enjoying so much magnificent music written over the centuries . It's a fact - many people dislike classical music not because of the music itself ,but because they've heard these myths repeated over and over .
Of course, there's no law that says you MUST love classical music , nor should there be one . If some people don't like it, that's certainly their right . But they shouldn't dislike it for the wrong reasons ! As the old saying goes , "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it ". And so many people haven't really TRIED it . Classical music is probably the most diverse kind of music in existence in terms of musical styles and genres .
There is music by so many composers of different nationalities, many NOT European , and styles have changed vastly over the centuries . The musicof Stravinsky is vastly different from the music of Beethoven . Beethoven'smusic is vastly different from the music of Claudio Monteverdi who lived in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries . The music of Monteverdi is very different from Palestrina ,also of Italy , who lived a couple of generations before him . And so on .The music of Philip Glass , who is still very much alive , is vastly different from Stravinsky's .
The music of Richard Wagner , a German , is vastly different from the music of Giuseppe Verdi, an Italian born in the same year , 1813 . Orchestral music is very different form opera , and chamber music is very different form both . There's such amazing diversity in what we call classical music . So people should not listen to just one or two pieces of it and decide they don't like the whole shebang . Can you imagine someone who grew up isolated from the world and saw of movie for the first time , and decided he or she didn't like movies ?
So if you're going to listen to some classical music , listen to various types of it ; orchestral , opera , chamber music , art songs etc . Chances are you will like some classical works and not others . It's just the same with movies . We all like some , but not others . However,with classical music , you often need repeated hearings before you know whether you like something or not . You should always be wary of rejecting a work immediately . Give it a chance .
There are also some unfortunate people who don't like classical music because of music appreciation classes they took as children or teenagers in school . If a teacher does not a good job of explaining this kind of music , is a boring , apathetic teacher , etc , the effect can be deadly and close a young person's mind for life . However, too many public schools have long abandoned music appreciation classes altogether , and so many young people get zero exposure to classical music . This has done possibly even more damage to the cause of classical music . It's not the fault of these young people that they get no exposure to it . If you mention the name Ludwig van Beethoven to them you will get blanks states and they will reply "Ludwig van who ?"
There are no easy answers as to how to remedy this unfortunate situation , and how to increase the popularity of classical music . But something MUST be done ,and I'm convinced that it CAN be done . It certainly won't be easy , but it's not impossible .
No, this isn't about the great writer and humorist . It's about the alleged "death" of classical music . Yes, rumors of the death of classical music have been greatly exaggerated , like the death of Mark Twain long ago . Classical music is neither dead nor dying , for all its undemiable problems .
But recently , one Mark Vanhoenacker , writing for slate.com , went so far as to declare classical music dead and buried . (How do you pronounce his name, anyway ?) He trotted out all the usual facts and half-truths ; the audience is aging ; there's a lack of younger people at concerts , numerous orchestras and opera companies ,not only in the U.S. , have gone under or are close to it . It's difficult to sell out performances ; the costs of running opera companies and orchestras are prohibitive ; audiences are predominantly white ; there's a woeful lack of new music which audiences like .
Vanhoenacker also sets up at least one or two straw men ; "fancy clothes " are a problem . He does not state whether the fancy clothes are worn by either audiences or the performers . Audiences don't wear "fancy clothes " for the most part ,and there is no dress code requiring formal attire . Orchestras dress somewhat formally ,but so what ? What's so horrible about a concert where the men are wearing tuxedos or black ties ? How can this make going to concerts a less enjoyable experience ? Would it be nicer if they all wore dungarees and T shirts ?
In addition , the author mentions "incomprehensible program notes " at concerts . This might be a problem in some cases ,where the writer doesn't do a good job explaining the music or the circumstances behind the composition of the works , but the writers, who tend to be professional musicologists , don't generally write as though they were writing scholarly papers for a conference of musicologists or highly technical analyses by music theorists , which are certainly highly technical and esoteric . Personally , I have not heard a great many stories about program notes being incomprehensible .
But classical music , for all the difficulties it faces , is far from "dead " or even being moribund . Wolrdwide , there are still more professional orchestras ,opera companies , chamber ensembles , solo instrumentalists of all instruments , choruses , opera and concert singers than ever before . And there is most definitely an audience for them . The vast majority have not gone under .
There are also more composers than ever before , and by no means all of them are white males . The notion that there is a lack of new music is a myth . Since the year 2,000 , numerous new works have been premiered ; orchestral works, operas , oratorios , etc in a wide variety of compositional styles ranging from rather old -fashioned conservative works designed not to distress audiences to works of mind-boggling complexity which are extremely challenging an daunting listenign experiences .
Many critics and composers say that the repertoire of classical music has become "ossified ", and performing groups tend to repeat the same old familiar masterpieces to the exclusion of new works . This is a half truth . There is a canon of lastingly popular operas, symphonies,concertos etc , and many opera companies and orchestras tend to concentrate on these , but there are many exceptions to this rule . Every year , there is a steady stream of new works by many different composers from all over the world . Of course , most of these works will never achieve a lasting place in the reprtoire , but this is true of the vast majority of works written over the centuries .
Far from being "ossified ", the repertoire of classical music is in constant flux . In addition to the established, beloved masterpieces , there are new works every year ,plus revivals of works which had been long neglected . In addition to live performances , a staggeringly wide variety of classical music is available on CD , and more and more is becoming available on DVD . If you want to hear music beyond the familiar works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven , Tchaikovsky , Ravel and other famous composers , you can hear music by composers few people but diehard classical music fans have ever heard of . More than you could ever imagine . Lots of interesting music which has been undeservedly neglected .
The internet now enables you to hear the entire range of western classical music ranging from works written over five centuries ago to the latest works by living composers . If you want to see an opera performance but don't wnt to pay for expensive tickets or don't live anywhere near an opera house , you can now see live performances by the Metropolitan opera at your local movie theater for about $ 20 dollars instead of $ 350 for one of the better seats at the Mets home in Lincoln Center . Or you can wait until the DVD comes out .
On youtube, you can hear an amazingly wide variety of classical music for nothing . You can hear recordings and see entire concerts by the world's greatest orchestras ,conductors, pianists and violinists etc . Works by just about ANY ocmposer ,period . You can see complete operas by many different composers complete with English subtitles . Sung by the world's greatest singers, living and dead . You can stream live and recorded performances by the Metropolitan opera on their website .
Is it a feast or a famine for classical music today ? You might say both . But don't ever believe anyone who says that it is either dead or dying .
The great and revered Italian conductor Cllaudio Abbado has just passed away at the age of 80 in his home in Bologna,Italy . It's difficult to believe that such a force of nature , a conductor so filled with energy and enthusiasm , is no more . But he had been struggling with the effects of stomach cancer for some years , while managing to continue conducting , and his appearance had become more gaunt with age .
Many great conductors have been feared by the musicians who played under them ; they were strict disciplinarians who were respected but dreaded . Toscanini, Szell, Reiner , for example . But Claudio Abbado was universally loved by the world's greatest orchestras which he conducted for decades ; the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago symphony , to name only those most closely associated with him , not to mention the orchestras of such great opera companies of the great La Scala opera house in his native Milan and others .
Abbado was the gentle giant of the podium ; never bossy, overbearing and imperious , he won the respect of orchestral musicians everywhere with his exceptional musiciaship and quiet authority . He was equally admired by the world's greatest opera singers , with whom he regularly worked , and the most renowned violinists , pianists and other solo instrumentalists .
Claudio Abbado was chosen by the musicians of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic to succede the legendary Herbert von Karajan as their chief conductor in 1989 shortly after the older maestro died that year , and also been principal conductor of the London symphony orchestra , the music director of La Scala Milan and the Vienna State opera . He also served as principal guest conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra during the 1980s .
As a budding young conductor in the early 1960s he was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein ,and guest conducted such great American orchestras as the Boston symphony , Philadelphia and Cleveland on occaision, although his main base was Europe .
Later in life, he founded several special more or less ad hoc orchestras such as the Lucerne Festival orchestra , a deluxe, hand-picked festival orchestra chosen from the greatest orchestras of Europe , and the Mozart orchestra of Bologna , as well as the All-European youth orchestra , drawn from the most talented young aspiring musicians of the continent .
Abbado was at home in a wide rnge of orchestral and operatic repertoire , ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to the most important composers of the present day . In opera , he was especially renowned for his interpretations of Verdi and Rossini Mozart, but also conduted operas by Wagner, Alban Berg, Mussorgsky , Debussy and Richard Strauss .
He was a staunch champion of such leading Italian contemporary composers as Luigi Nono and others , as well as the music of other avant-garde European composers as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen .
Abbado made numerous recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammaphon , but also for Sony Classical and Decca of a wide variety of works ,and many have become classics , such as his La Scala recordings of operas by Verdi ,including Don Carlos , Aida , Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth and Un Ballo in Maschera . Classic Rossini opera recordings include Il Barbiere Di Siviglia , La Cenerentola (Cinderella ), and Il Viaaggio Reims .
There are also recordings of Bizet's Carmen, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Wagner's Lohengrin , Debussy's Pelleas& Melisande , and Berg's Wozzeck .
Abbado recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies twice, with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, and the complete symphonies of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms , Mahler, and Tchaikovsky . There are also recordings of numerous works by Prokofiev, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Berlioz , Bruckner Debussy etc . Numerous live performances of operas and concerts by the maestro are available on DVD .
Few conductors have been so universally loved and admired as Claudio Abbado , by both audiences musicians and singers . And few have been less egotistical and imperious . He will be universally missed , but leaves a great and priceless legacy of great achievements .
Recently, a friend of mine and his wife went to see their first opera , at a not too shabby a venue - the Metropolitan opera . He's a psychologist based in Manhattan and a Jazz buff . But lately, I've been able to increase his interest in classical music and opera , and when he asked me if he and his wife should try a performance at the Met, I said of course , as you might expect from me .
The opera he chose, with my recommendation , was the new Met production of Tchaikovsky's poignant "Eugene Onegin", based on a lengthy verse poem by the great early 19th century writer Alexander Pushkin . It's the story of a bored and cynical Russiian playboy who by chance meets a naive and vulnerable young woman who falls hopelessly in love with him ,only to be rejected because he has no interest in settling down as a married man . Several years later , he meets her again at a ball in St. Petersburg, where she is now the wife of a much older Russian general . He now realizes that he loves her, but is crushed by her rejection of him now that she is a married woman, even though she still feels love for him .
It's a richly romantic opera with plenty of Tchaikovsky's souldful and haunting melodies . Not a bad choice . My friend asked me about what to wear , and I explained that there is no dress code, and the only time that some people dress formally there is on the opening night of the season, which is a gala occaision .
That's right . If you've never been to an opera performance , those scenes in old movies at the opera with everybody dressed in Tuxedos and gowns are nothing like the real experience of going to the opera today . People don't go there to show off their fancy clothes ; they're there to see and hear an opera . A lot of these people are opera fans - just the same way some people are baseball fans , or of football or basketball . Some will always be opera newbies or people who just attend once in a while . There may be some wealthy people in the audience , usually in the expensive boxes , but they too may be big opera fans . There's absolutely nothing stuffy about the opera experience , whatever it may be like .
Opera fans discuss the performances just as hearedly as sports fans . But unlike sports, there are no clearcut wnners or losers . They disagree very often . But ultimately, EVERYBODY there is a winner , whether the cast or the audience .
I also explained that although the opera was sung in Russian by a mostly Russian cast of singers , and the conductor was also Russian, the Met has a system whereby you can see an English translation of whatever opera is being performed on the back of the seat in front of you , and this certainly helped to enhance their enjoyment of the opera .
Many other opera houses use supertitiles, whereby a translation is projected onto the stage . But thew Met stage is so enormous that it's impossible to project a translation so that everyone can see it, hence the ingenious so-called "Met Titles ".
So if you've never had the pleasure of attending an opera performance at any of the who knows how many which exist all over the globe, don't hesitate yourself ! Would my friend and his wife like to go to more Met performances ? The answer was a definite yes !
The year 2013 in classical music was a bewildering and dizzying mix of artistic excellence and fiscal and administrative woes for performing arts institutions all over the globe . Sometimes it seemed as though the entire world of classical music was bout to implode , yet there have been glimmers of hope amid all the bad news .
First , the bad news . Orchestras and opera companies all over Europe , America and elsewhere are struggling to stay alive and some have gone under . The plucky New York City opera , a fixture in that great city for nearly 70 years , declared bankruptcy and has ceased giving performances , and has been unable to return to Lincoln Center , where it had stood next to the mighty and far more glamorous Metropolitan oper since the 1960s . Billionaire business tycoon David Koch , who had contributed greatly to the company in funding the recent extensive renovation of the former New York State theater, now named after him, is no longer willing to provide the help to save the company , and there are other complex causes for this disaster .
The Minnesota orchestra of Minneapolis has been locked out for over year due a power struggle between the musicians and its management , and Osmo Vanska , its Finnish-born music director has resigned due to the impasse after a decade of critical and audience acclaim as its head , and a series of recordings with Sweden's BIS label has been cancelled . In Italy , the Rome opera is on the verge of going under , as well as the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino opera company in Florence . The whole opera infrstructure in Italy , ironically the birthplace of opera 400 years ago , seems about to implode , apparently due to poor management .
Elsewhere in Europe , two of Germany's most prestigious radio orchestras , those of Stuttgart and the nearby one in thew resort town of Baden-Baden are being merged for financial reasons , and some of the musicians may have to be downsized . At least two of the orchestras of Greece have folded , and in Asia , the Maylasian Philharmonic of Kuala Lumpur is plagued with management problems .
The Brrooklyn Philharmonic in New York, acclaimed for its adventurous programming , has gone bankrupt , as well as the Napa Valley Phiharmonic in California , the San Antonio, Texas, opera , and Opera Boston . The Milwaukee symphony has recently announced financial troubles which could threaten its existence . And there are quite a few others everywhere that are struggling .
But on the plus side , most of the world's who knows how many opera companies are still alive and kicking , and they are performing a very wide variety of repertoire ranging from centuries ago to new or recent works . James Levine , the internationally acclaimed music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the orchestra pit there after nearly two years of severe back trouble and other ailments , and though confined to a motorized wheelchair , he health has improved considerably . He recently conducted the first new production of Verdi's final opera "Falstaff " in nearly 50 years at the Met to considerable acclaim nd his renewed presence on the Met's roster of conductors could not be more welcome .
The young Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin appears to be doing great work reviving the fortunes of the troubled Philadelphia orchestra , one of the world's greatest , after several years without a music director , and he has begun to record with the orchestra for the presitigious Deutsche Grammophon label . After a long search due to James Levine's departure from the Boston symphony due to his severe health problems , the orchestra has found a promising choice to succeed him , the gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons .
In the ridiculous category , the new production of Wagner's Ring cycle at the legendary festival theater in Bayreuth ,Germany in honor of the bicentennial of his birth turned out to be a total travesty of the monumental work . The composer intended the tetralogy of operas to be set in a mythical pagan Germany with the Germanic gods, goddesses, superheroes, giants, dwarves, water nixies , etc, yet the director and designer set the production in contemporary America out west , and also in the oil rich city of Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian sea . The Ring is all about greed and lust for power , and the fierce struggle between the gods , dwarves, and giants etc , but the production turned the work into something Wagner could never even have conceived of let alone have approved of . Such preposterous productions of operas have been the norm in European opera companies since the 1970s, and there seems to be no end in sight .
But whatever happens in the near future , don't believe the doomsayers who are convinced that classical music is on life support . You can't keep a great art form down !
December 16 th is Beethoven's birthday , and he was born in 1770 in the provincial German town of Bonn in the Rhineland , which served as the capitol of west Germany before the reunification of east and west , leaving his hometown at the age of 21 to move to Vienna , the greatest musical center of the day in order to seek the chance ot achieve greatness , where he died in 1827 .
We all know that Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time , and that he suffered from deafness which progressed slowly beginning in his early 30s even though the exact cause remains a matter of medical speculation . Everyone knows the famous melody of the "Ode To Joy " , the "Da Da Da Daaaah " which opens the fifth symphony , and the catchy melody of his brief piano piece "Fur Elise ", which is just a potboiler and far from being one of his greates or most important works . And the , the correct title is actually "Fur Therese ", as the messy manuscript was apparently misread by the publisher .
But how many people REALLY know Beethoven's music , its emotional power, grandeur , originality , and intensity , as well as its passages of tender lyricism , bloisterous humor , contempltiveness , and other expressive qualities ? Not nearly enough . You really have to take the time to get to know the music by carefull listening , and it helps to know something about the man, his extraordinary life , the context of the times he lived in etc . Fortunately, there is wealth of writing about this , in biographies, books, articles , etc , all esily accessible over the internet .
Beethoven wrote quite a few works which are simple, straightforward , and tuneful , mainly for money . But his nine symphonies, five piano concertos , violin conerto , 32 piano sonatas , his sole opera Fidelio , 16 string quartets , his Miss Sollemnis , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass , and many other works are NOT easy listening if you're new to classical music . In fact , you can listen to them for many,many years without ever leaning everything about them and you will always gain new insights into them from repeated hearings .
And what kind of man was Ludwig Van Beethoven , son of a court singer in Bonn of Flemish origin ? He showed early musical talent as a boy in his hometown , studied with a repsected music techer who taught him the basics of compositon and began to compose his juvenile works, which are very little known today . His father thought he might be able to exploit the boy as a child prodigy like Mozart , and forced him to practice at the keyboard for many hours a day , even treating him roughly .
The young Ludwig never became another Mozart ,but he developed into a formidable piano virtuoso and in his early 20s, realized that he should move from provincial Bonn in Germany to sophisticated Vienna , capitol of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire as well as being the musical capitol of Europe . That was where the opportunity was . He hoped to study with Mozart , but met him only once shortly before his trgically early death . He did manage to study with another great composer and friend of Mozart , Joseph Haydn . But he claimed to have learned little from the great master and was beginning to show his own originality as a composer . He also acheived great acclaim as a piano virtuoso , and the wealthy ,influential music-loving nobility of Vienna recognized his brilliance and began to support him financially and with comissions for a variety of works .
But Beethoven was a stubborn ,headstring , a not particularly deferential,tactful and suave personality who was never willing to suck up to the rich and powerful Viennese aristocracy and powerful politicians , potentates and prelates . He ws gruff , irascible and did not suffer fools gladly . H e never married , but always hoped to find a woman who migh marry him . But he was rather uncouth at times , moved frequently round Vienna serching for an apartment who pleased him and was sloppy, unkempt nd often shabbily dressed . The Viennese tolertaed his foibles, though, because of his genius . His dwellings were a mess . You might call him the Oscar Madison of music, although he had no Viennese Felix Unger neat freak as a roommate - fortunately !
The exact cause remains unclear , but Beethoven began to suffer distressing difficulties with his hearing from his early 30s , and gradually became almost completely deaf . Doctors were unable to help him much , but a crude sound magnifying device , an ear horn, helped him somewhat . He was a stubborn , crotchety , irascible fellow , and while he had many friends among the leading musicians of the day , his frequent ill temper caused rifts between them frequently . He had frequent quarrels with his two brothers , the only surving immediate family members he had ; his parents had had several other children who died in infancy , and his nephew , son of one of them , came to live with him after his parent's a crimonious divorce . Beethoven disapproved of the boy's mother , and thought her to be loose woman . Uncle and nephew had a difficult relationship to say the least .
Deafness forced Beethoven to abandon his brilliant career as a pianist , but fortunately it dd not stop him from producing some of the greatest music ever written ; nine great symphonies , 32 piano sonatas , ten for violin and piano , five for cello and pianoi, five piano concertos , one for violin , sixteen string quartets , one opera called Fidelio , numerous miscellaneous piano works , two masses , other chamber works such as trios for violin, cello and piano , and much, much more .
It was anything but an easy , uneventful life . In addition to his deafness , difficult personality , lack of luck with women , family woes , difficulty in finding musicians and orchestras which could do justice to his denanding works , etc, he was often plagued by various ailments such as stomach trouble and other maladies . When he departed the world in 1827 , his funeral was a public event , and the great Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer delivered a funeral oration .
And as they say , the rest is history . Beethoven's works became an integral part of the standard repertoire for orchestras , pianists, conductors, violinists , and other musicians . But how many of his works do YOU know,a ssuming you are not a lover of classical music , a professional musician or musicologist ? There's so much more to Beethoven than a few famous tunes . The melodies , more properly called themes, in Beethoven are only the basic building blocks of his works . What mkes them great is what he does with those basic, often simple melodies , constntly trnsforming them with such ingenuity , and forming them into works of great complexity and depth .
Have you experienced that grandeur , intensity and emotional power of Beethoven's music, as well as its tender lyricism , boisterous humor and moments of deep contemplation , its many-sidedness which I just mentioned ? If not , please start listening carefully to his music , and go far beyond those popular tunes which everyone knows . You'll never regret it !
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